By Barry Barbe

What happens when two women committed to everything hospitality cross paths and become best friends? Well… Prescott gets a European cheese bar and the two get to experience owning and growing their first business.

“When our friends and people we knew found out we were going to go into business together, they said this could be really great, or really scary,” Back Alley Wine Bar co-owner Kristen Russillo said.

Fortunately, it’s been great as Kristen and partner, Tiana Costello, dive head first into the young business utilizing their years of customer service and food and beverage knowledge — paired with hard work and creativity.

Tiana, a mother of three, moved to Prescott 15 years ago after 20 years in the music business running a night club in Seattle. Since her arrival, Tiana worked in area restaurants as the manager of the Raven. Along the way, Tiana increased her appreciation and knowledge of wine eventually working at The Back Alley Wine Bar as sommelier.

While working at the Back Alley Wine Bar, owner Sheri Shaw — who had opened the Back Alley Cheese Bar in late 2022 — decided to lighten her work load and offered the young business to Tiana. “I told her I needed a few days to think about it, and the next day said yes.” Tiana said.

It didn’t take Tiana long to convince her bestie to join her in the creative venture.

Kristen basically grew up in Prescott and in the local restaurant scene. Along with restaurant experience, she learned welding from a regular patron, creating and building the bar at Atmesfir while working there as a server.

Since January, the two have been busy expanding the selections and putting their personal touches and flavors on the Back Alley Cheese Bar.

No strangers to hard work, the duo tag team kitchen responsibilities along with all aspects of running the business, while still working part time gigs. Tiana can be found at the Back Alley Wine Bar, and Kristen on Saturdays at the Bird Cage Saloon.

The Back Alley Cheese Bar offers retail, to-go service, patio and indoor seating as well as offering a full menu to the Back Alley Wine Bar across the alley. Recently, through the creative use of a QR-code menu, patrons at the Bird Cage Saloon can also order menu items for delivery.

When it comes to flavor, there is no shortage when it comes to cheese and the subtle and extreme differences and quality between them. The store offers unique, small batch artisanal cheese from around the world along with specialty food products that accompany them. You can also find kitchen utensils, boards, and cheese making kits.<br />

“Cheese is like wine when it comes to the subtle nuances and how they play on the palate,” Tiana explains, “which is why wine and cheese pair so well together.”

Their shared knowledge and appreciation of food and beverages makes their partnership unique. “We both bring something to the table when it comes to menu development and our ability to pair and create dishes,” Kristen said.

“We get tons of requests for specialty cheeses that people tasted somewhere are unable to locate. We figure out what it is and source it for them,” she adds.

“One of the things that surprised us was the amount of requests for vegan cheese and the difference in taste and quality of vegan cheese. You have to taste a lot of really bad vegan cheese to find the good ones.”

Fortunately, there are plenty of good cheeses to be found.

So, whether you’re in need of a “grazing board” for a special event, looking for a hard-to-find, high-quality cheese, or in the mood for a hearty sandwich such as the Horsin’ Around, Flat Bread, or Charcuterie Board, check out the Back Alley Cheese Bar, which is located in the Old Firehouse Plaza, 220 W. Goodwin St., in downtown Prescott, open daily at noon.

Also for more information, visit Backalleycheesebar.com or on Facebook.

Following are spring cheese pairing suggestions from Tiana and Kristen at the Back Alley Cheese Bar:

• Beehive Teahive — Sweet and creamy. This Jersey cow’s milk cheese immediately delights the palate and the complexities of the tea-rubbed rind continue through the finish

• Paired with Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo produces lightly-colored red wines that can be highly tannic in youth with scents of tar and roses.

• La Clare Garlic Herb Goat Cheese. Goat Cheese is accented by Sweet Tanginess and Zesty Garlic and Herbs.

• Paired with Merlot. Merlot can be a bit of a chameleon; ranging from fruity, smooth and easy-going to age-worthy, full-bodied, and sophisticated. Often mistaken for its blending partner, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot is not one to be underestimated.

• Mango Ginger Stilton. White Stilton with Mango and Ginger, Long Clawson ‘Carnival’ Cheese is a delicious dessert cheese; the most popular of the fruit blended White Stiltons. The crumbly refreshing White Stilton cheese combined with the spiced pieces of crystallized is ginger, make a carnival of flavors and colors.

• Paired with Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner offers primary flavors of lemon, lime, grapefruit, and nectarine, followed by secondary notes of white pepper, iris, green bean, radish, lovage, and tarragon, ginger, and honey.

Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. His radio show, the Prescott Palette, is on KQNA 1130 AM, Saturdays at noon. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.

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